Special markings have been used on United States coins since 1838 to indicate where they were manufactured. Over the years eight different mints have been used to make the coins for this nation. Each of them has been assigned a different letter for identification, and all coins made at each facility include that mint mark to show their origin.
Mint marks in the form of letters or symbols are an ancient feature that can be traced back to Greek and Roman minters who took pride in their work and wanted to be distinguished from others who were perhaps less skilled. Many kings and emperors of that time also insisted on the use of mint marks to be able to identify the origin of any coins that did not comply with standard weight and fineness. Without constant supervision it would be easy for a minter to make lightweight coins and pocket the extra metal.
Over the years most countries have continued the custom of including mint marks of one kind or another to identify the place of origin for their coins. It was only logical that when first branch mints in America opened in 1838, mint marks were used to distinguish those coins from other similar pieces being made in Philadelphia. In that year new manufacturing facilities were opened in Charlotte, North Carolina; Dahlonega, Georgia and New Orleans, Louisiana. The mint letters designated for them were “C”,“D”, and “O” respectively.
For many years the original Philadelphia Mint did not use a mint mark for identification. That custom changed in 1979 when the letter “P” was used on the dollar coin. Thereafter, the mark was included on all Philadelphia-made coins except the one-cent piece. Prior to that it had been used only on the wartime nickels made of silver from 1942-1945. It is usually easy to spot mint marks on United States coins. They are always in the form of tiny letters that seemingly should not be part of the basic design. Prior to 1965 nearly all mint marks were placed on the reverse of the coins. There are exceptions, but very few, and those coins are easy to spot. The rest of the early coins have a mint mark on the reverse usually right below the eagle.
From 1965 to the present mint marks have been placed on the front of every coin usually near the date. On the cent it is right below the date. Nickels show it between the date and Jefferson’s ponytail. You will not have to look hard to find the mint mark on the dime; it is directly above the date. Quarters show the mark to the right of the ribbon in Washington’s hair, the half-dollar has it above the date, very near the point of Kennedy’s neck. Both the Eisenhower and Susan B. Anthony dollars have mint marks near the neck and the Sacagawea dollar carries the mark below the date.
Searching for mint marks can be fun, and it is necessary to know where they are all located to properly identify each coin. The coins in circulation today are all made in one of three currently operating mints. Philadelphia (P), Denver (D), and San Francisco (S). The mint in West Point, New York occasionally makes a few non-circulating coins and uses their (W) mark for identification.